This article originally appeared on Inc.com
Nav has been doing a lot of hiring. Recently, a colleague asked me how we’re going to maintain our company culture in the face of such rapid growth.
I understand his concern; we have a killer culture. We laugh a ton and work our tails off in an energetic atmosphere of affection and mutual respect. But the idea of maintaining this in a time of change implies that our culture is something we deliberately built.
What Culture Isn’t
It’s easy to be misled about a concept like culture. Culture is abstract and hard to define, so we look to things like casual dress codes and foosball tables and label them as culture. But these are surface-level concerns that any company can mimic and still have a lousy culture.
What Culture Is
Culture is a deep emotional bond that develops between people with shared values in pursuit of a unified vision. Values and vision precede culture. Culture develops organically–it can’t be manufactured, self-helped or coached into existence. The fuel that sustains it is love.
The Real Question
The real question during a time of accelerated growth shouldn’t be, “How do we maintain company culture?”, but rather, “How do we best transmit our company values and vision to the next generation of employees?”
Let’s look at a six-part plan for doing exactly that.
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1. Take Stock
Picture your company culture as it now stands. Take stock of where you started, where you’ve come, and how you arrived here. Put it into words. Describe your company values and vision, and how your culture developed organically from them. This’ll help you identify the bedrock elements of the culture, versus superficial elements like hoodies and free lunches.
2. Ask Your Executive Team to Take Stock
Ask your executive team to go through the same process, then get together and review your insights. Share these with your management team, and ask for their input, too.
3. Hire the Right People
The point of the exercise above is to make sure everyone’s unified as you start your next round of hiring. You don’t want to waste time teaching your values to new people, and it’s not obvious that you can “teach” values anyway. Build your interviews around your values and only hire people who already share them. It won’t matter at that point whether they prefer hoodies or polo shirts–they’ll fit your company culture regardless.
4. Encourage Referrals
As much as you can, hire from a referral pool created by employees you already know, love and trust. Chances are good that their friends are like they are, and that they’d be hesitant to refer an acquaintance if they weren’t sure they’d enjoy working with them themselves.
5. Dedicate a Company Meeting to Core Values
As your company family grows, dedicate a meeting to your values and vision. At our monthly company meetings, we do a company shout-out where one employee submits another for an outstanding contribution to one of our core values. For old-timers, they’re a valuable reaffirmation of what they already know. For newcomers, they serve as a memorable introduction to our company values and provide concrete examples of how their new team members exemplify them.
6. Build New Ties and Strengthen Old Ones
Memorize the names of your new employees, along with a few simple facts about them. You may not be able to meet with them all, but just greeting them by name and asking them some pertinent questions about their lives will make them feel appreciated. Simultaneously, go the extra mile to offer simple expressions of love and gratitude for those who’ve been with you throughout the journey.
Are your company values strong and well-defined? Do you return to them frequently and use them as the basis for all your new hires? Most importantly, do you continue to adhere to them personally? If your answer is yes to all three questions, you don’t have to worry about maintaining anything. Your culture is going to take care of itself.